|Wofford, Spartanburg businesses await outcome of pending NFL labor talks|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Wednesday, 06 July 2011 10:21|
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Like most NFL fans around the country the folks at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., are anxiously awaiting the outcome of this week’s closed door negotiations between the NFL owners and players.|
They have a lot riding on them.
For the past 16 years Wofford has been the summer home of the Panthers, but the ongoing NFL lockout (now at 113 days) is threatening to cancel the annual three-week training camp. There’s growing concern is the Panthers and new star attraction Cam Newton, the top pick in this year’s NFL draft, won’t be coming to Spartanburg on July 29 as originally scheduled if the NFL lockout doesn't end in the next two or three weeks.
At this point, there’s nothing the college can do but wait.
Wofford College athletic director Richard Johnson said he’s been in constant contact with Panthers team president Danny Morrison and they’re ready to host another training camp at a moment’s notice, providing a deal gets done soon. Although some NFL teams have informed their college hosts there will be a "deadline" at which point they won’t be coming to camp, there’s no such arrangement between the Panthers and Wofford, Johnson and Panthers team officials confirmed Wednesday.
“We’re both just staying flexible,” Johnson said. “We don’t have a drop dead date where they would cancel training camp. If this were our first year with them we would probably have a deadline.
“For them, it’s really, ‘Hey, how fast can you guys throw things together?’ And for us it’s, ‘Hey, do you still want to come, does it still work for you?’ Really, we can make it work. We know what their needs are and they know we can deliver. Ultimately it comes down to the labor talks and when that gets resolved and how it all that fits into (the Panthers’) schedule. We’ve worked with them for 16 years, so there’s a mutual trust.”
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Morrison are Wofford College alums, with Morrison previously serving as the school’s athletic director, so it’s hard to find an NFL team with a closer relationship with their college hosts than the Panthers have with Wofford.
During a recent visit in Spartanburg, Johnson said he got a strong indication that new Panthers coach Ron Rivera wants to hold training camp at Wofford, away from where the players reside so he can keep them focused on the task at hand, which is preparing for the upcoming NFL season.
Wofford, about a 90-minute drive from Charlotte, has always been a perfect logistical fit for the Panthers.
“He’s an old school guy,” Johnson said of Rivera. “He’s the type of guy that has a plan and is eager to get down to business. You have to like that in a coach.”
Of course, if the labor talks linger there will come a point where hosting training camp in Spartanburg simply doesn’t make much sense for either organization.
If the lockout lingers into the last week of July or early August it will likely preclude the Panthers from packing up their things and heading to Wofford since the Greene Hall dormitory -- which is where they players sleep when they're at training camp -- will be needed for incoming students.
“It all basically depends on when the NFL reaches an agreement with its players,” Johnson said, adding that the practice fields the Panthers use during training camp are ready for use.
Not hosting training camp, particularly this summer, would be a big blow to Wofford College as well as the Spartanburg business community, particularly with Newton expected to command plenty of national attention.
He could be the biggest star attraction the team has ever had.
The Panthers are clearly the biggest summer attraction for the Spartanburg area, according to Chris Jennings, the executive director of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. Jennings said there hasn’t been a recent study done in terms of the economic impact the Panthers have on the area, saying the most recent one came 15 years ago. Even back then, the study concluded the Panthers brought more than $600,000 in revenue to the Spartanburg area.
“Obviously it would be much more now,” Jennings said. “And the Cam Newton factor is big. He would certainly draw in a lot of national attention and bring a lot more people to the area. He seems like he’s a great young man and media darling, so that would be a big factor for us. That's something we would try to play off of. So we’re still hoping things work out. We have to wait and see.”
Akshay Bahl, the general manager of the Marriott at Renaissance Park in Spartanburg, S.C., the largest hotel in the area, estimates an additional 200 to 300 rooms per night are sold during the three-week training camp, mostly consistently of family and friends of players, as well as fans. At more than $100 per room per night, the hotel stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if the lockout prevents the Panthers from coming to town.
“We’re all hoping things get resolved soon,” Bahl said.
Johnson said the financial impact would not be a major factor for Wofford, but the loss of the Panthers would hurt in other areas.
“The biggest loss for us would be in terms of exposure and bringing the community to campus,” Johnson said. “And we learn so much from the Panthers every time they come. That would be our biggest loss.”